I recently spent a night in York, which I have since been informed is the most haunted city in England. When I told the name of my hotel to the cab driver at the railway station, he didn't look happy. “Do you know it? ” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “Unfortunately.” When we pulled up outside a big old house that looked like Bates' motel from Psycho, I asked for a receipt. He looked even less happy. “You want the world, you,” he said.
I was checked in by a young man dressed all in black. He had an Eastern European accent and didn't smile. “You in coach-house,” he growled, handing me a huge, old-fashioned key and nodding across the carpark. After dropping off my bag I headed to the bar to watch a World Cup football match. Six pairs of eyes looked up as I walked in, then went straight back to their drinks. No-one said a word.
Now, I'm no George Clooney, but these were the strangest-looking people I've ever seen. I finished my beer in silence and headed back to my room. The bed was okay but I couldn't sleep because the floorboards in the room above were creaking so loudly all night.
Next morning I went to breakfast. More weird-looking people, more silence. The bloke at the next table reminded me of Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It put me right off my food, so I decided to pay for the night and take off. When I hit the buzzer at reception, the woman who came out of the office looked like she'd been preserved in formaldehyde: a combination of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? and Meryl Streep in the final scenes of Death Becomes Her.
She asked if I'd had a pleasant stay. I said I had. I didn't want to tell her about the people in the room above keeping me awake walking around on those creaking floorboards all night. I was afraid she'd say, “There wasn't anyone in the room above.”